By: Sean Cartell
SEC Digital Network
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – It’s often difficult to understand what makes up a coach’s legacy, especially while they are still taking the sidelines each Saturday. Sometimes the important facts are overlooked, frequently the negatives accentuated and the positives diminished or vice versa. More often than not, that legacy - authored by those who often don’t personally know the subject they write about – is unfair.
For whatever reason, the pen hasn’t always fallen favorably on Georgia head coach Mark Richt. For all he has accomplished in Athens, it seems that the critics have, for years, placed him on the proverbial hot seat. Through it all, Richt has continued to prove the doubters wrong. Yet, they continue to doubt.
But, fortunately, Saturday was a day to celebrate Richt’s accomplishments. With the Bulldogs’ 20-12 victory against Tennessee in Knoxville, the 11th-year head coach earned his 100th career win, improving his record to 100-36. He has won more than 73 percent of his games, competing in one of the nation’s toughest leagues and playing a nationally competitive non-conference slate.
“We had a great celebration in the locker room after the game and it was a lot of fun,” Richt said in Saturday’s postgame press conference at Neyland Stadium. “I am very humbled at the way the players and coaches responded towards me. One-hundred victories is kind of hard to believe, really, but I know that these victories belong to everyone that’s played here in that time frame – all the coaches and everybody that helps us do our thing.”
Richt on Saturday became just the third coach in Georgia history to reach 100 wins, joining Vince Dooley (201) and Wally Butts (140). He is the fastest coach in UGA history to eclipse that milestone, as Butts and Dooley both passed the century mark in their 14th seasons.
He is just the fourth current SEC coach with 100 or more career victories, joining Houston Nutt (Ole Miss), Nick Saban (Alabama) and Steve Spurrier (South Carolina).
More importantly than his accomplishments on the gridiron – and there are many – Richt has a reputation among those who know him best as a great mentor of young men. His sophomore quarterback Aaron Murray said Saturday that Richt’s players have focused on this milestone, wanting to win this week’s game for their coach.
“It was Coach Richt’s 100th win, so we were all pumped,” Murray said. “He might not have said it all week – he wasn’t talking about it – but the players were talking about it in the locker room during the week. We wanted to win this because it was a big SEC game, but we also wanted to win this for Coach Richt too.”
But, for those who need numbers to back up Richt’s accomplishments, here’s just a snapshot of his success while in Athens:
• Richt is one of only seven head coaches in NCAA Division I-A history to record 90 wins through his first nine seasons.
• Richt is one of only six coaches in history to win two SEC Championships (2002, 2005) in his first five years.
• Entering the 2011 campaign, Richt’s winning percentage of .738 was fourth-best in the country among active coaches.
• Richt has led the Bulldogs to 10 consecutive bowl games.
Take all of those factors into account and Richt’s definitive legacy may one day center around the fact that he has been one of the most successful coaches in Southeastern Conference history.
For now, Georgia is tied atop the SEC Eastern Division standings (though South Carolina holds the tiebreaker between the two squads) and may be poised to make its first trip to Atlanta for the SEC Championship game since 2006.
Regardless of what happens down the stretch, Saturday was Richt’s day. It was much-deserved recognition for the tremendous impact he has had on the Georgia program for more than a decade. Now, the Bulldogs will continue to do what they have always done, take it one game at a time.
“We have to get ready for Vanderbilt next week, another SEC game,” Murray said. “We’re feeling that we have some momentum going right now and we have to keep working hard and keep practicing and staying focused on our ultimate goal.”